There are two categories of meetings managers are called upon to conduct: informational and problem solving.
TIn my years of working in retail furniture stores I've noticed two failings regarding the matter of weekly store meetings. They either fail to take place on a regular basis or they are regularly scheduled, but poorly run. The aim of this article is to address the latter failing, not by simply reviewing Robert's Rules of Order, but by providing some guidelines aimed at helping to make weekly meetings productive and profitable. As for the first failure, while it may be the more serious of the two, I do not know what I could state to correct it, given the obvious benefits to be gained by weekly meetings and the obvious drawbacks to be suffered by their omission. Strictly speaking, anyone in the company can act as leader at a meeting. These guidelines are written with store managers in mind because they are the people who are mostly responsible and accountable for leading weekly store meetings.
To start with, there are two categories of meetings managers are usually called upon to conduct: informational and problem solving. Both of these categories are designed to handle either matters of policy and procedure or training and education. It should be emphasized at the outset that these guidelines are not ends in themselves. Their sole purpose is to keep the meeting focused on attaining its work related objectives. Store meetings are simply one of the ways for a company's personnel to fulfill their obligation to do the kind of work prescribed in each one's job description.
Meetings are not meant to serve either as a withdrawal from or a relaxation from that obligation. In fact, whenever managers remain convinced that there is a more suitable alternative for attaining their work related objectives, they are bound by the authority vested in them to opt for that more suitable alternative.
Who Should Attend?
Once the manager has made the determination to opt for a meeting, he or she should get on with serving as its leader in keeping with the three roles of organizer, instructor, and facilitator. As organizer, the manager's first step is to determine who will be attending the meeting. In doing so, the manager should not be influenced by the myth that the more attendees present, the greater the likelihood that the meeting will be successful. Rather, the rationale for deciding on who should be attending the meeting is to be based on each attendee's need to attend. A practical way to decide that is to reflect on the following self-directed questions:
- Are the objectives of this meeting relevant to this person's job description?
- Is the subject matter of the meeting a topic this person is so well versed in that his or her time could be better served elsewhere on the job?
- Would this person's valuable input during the meeting justify his or her presence despite the fact that he or she is well versed in this topic?
- Is this person so respected as a leader by the others in the department that he or she cannot be excluded without adversely affecting the outcome of the meeting?
Please note that in arriving at who should attend a meeting, the manager should not be influenced by frivolous mindsets based on differences of personality or on much more serious biases based on such things as race or gender. Nor is it wise for the manager "to stack the deck" according to one's personality preference. Not only is that unfair; it can also be strategically unwise, because one cannot consistently predict with any accuracy who is going to come up with the the best ideas, suggestions, and solutions. This is especially true regarding those who do the more menial and less prestigious jobs in the organization. There is an Italian saying that only the ladle knows the bubbling problems of the boiling kettle. So to, it is often those who work at the less prestigious jobs who are most privy not only to departmental problems but to their solutions as well.
The proper agenda
Having decided on who should attend the meeting, the next step for the manager as organizer is to produce a proper agenda. this should include the date, the time, and the place of the meeting, as well as its topics and objectives, all of which should be stated clearly and concisely, before being put into the hands of the attendees.
Putting the agenda into the hands of the attendees in advance of the meeting has several advantages. It allows the attendees enough time to reflect on the agenda beforehand and demonstrates the manager's respect for his or her people. It also points to the importance of the meeting itself.
The manager's role as organizer does not cease there, for it is the manager's responsibility to exercise a firm but kind control throughout the meeting. With so many negative images the word "control" conjures up, one can reasonably ask why virtually every manual on the subject of conducting meetings insists on retaining it. At the mere mention of the word, who is not reminded of the abusive control of despots, whether they be political rulers or the heads of educational institutions and business organizations? I imagine that the word control continues to appear in manuals about meetings because of the chaos and confusion that regularly results when there is no control at all. Virtue lies in the middle, the ancients used to say. In the matter of how much control the manager is to exercise at a meeting, the golden rule is the one to apply.
INSTRUCT, DON'T FLAUNT
The second role managers are required to play as leaders of the meeting is that of instructor. Managers are expected to interpret that role to mean that they should be knowledgeable about whatever they need to know to help the meeting attain its objectives. In attempting to appear knowledgeable, they should avoid appearing to be "know-it-alls." Managers should never use their store meetings to flaunt their knowledge. Such flaunting tends to turn the attendees off and away from actively participating in the meeting. Managers are supposed to use their knowledge to win their people's involvement and not to discourage it. Besides, as in so many matters having to do with interpersonal communication, people tend not to care how much a person knows until they know how much that person cares. Haughtiness and caring are as difficult a mix as oil and vinegar.
Fortunately there is a third role for the manager to follow as the leader of a meeting, a role that helps to keep the role of instructor in proper balance. It is the role of facilitator, the most difficult of the roles to perfect, in my opinion, but also the most helpful in attaining the meeting's objectives.
It is as facilitator that the manager lends an atmosphere of uninhibited discussion related to the meeting's objectives, an atmosphere in which the attendees feel invited instead of mandated to express their ideas, suggestions, and solutions. As facilitator, the manager shows by example and not by mere words both how to give others feedback and how to respond to the feedback of others. He or she also illustrates how to acknowledge the feelings the attendees express both verbally and nonverbally, and how to build on the ideas of others.
The best facilitators are masters at active listening which is the surest guarantee of being listened to. Active listeners never offend by being destructively critical or by being disinterestedly passive. Facilitators resist interrupting a speaker even with such seemingly innocent interruptions as "I know what you're going to say" which block the flow of interpersonal communication.
Facilitators conduct their meetings as "dialogues of discovery" to quote from V. A. Howard and J. H. Barton's book, "Thinking Together: Making Meetings Work." Facilitators are guided by the conviction that the ideas, suggestions, and solutions that reside in the minds of their people are vastly richer than those that reside in their minds alone. They view their coworkers as rich reservoirs to be tapped through the synergistic formula of cooperation, collaboration, and teamwork.
Where some might see stumbling blocks in the statements of others, facilitators see stepping stones. As a result, even when facilitators do engage in criticism, it is always constructive. Finally, facilitators are like conductors of a fine orchestra. They know that their main role is to conduct the performance of their "players" and not to do the "playing" themselves. When it comes time to receive accolades for the team's successful work, facilitators turn to "the audience" and acknowledge their "players" by pointing the "baton" at their "players" and not at themselves.
Fortunate are those retail furniture stores whose departments are led by managers who are first and foremost skilled facilitators. While all three roles of organizer, instructor, and facilitator are necessary, the most valuable is that of facilitator.
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Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to him care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.